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Strengthening the Horse Protection Act

Copyright 2006

Last month's edition of the Walking Horse Report featured an exclusive, in depth interview with Tom Blankenship of the National Horse Protection Society (NHPS).

Blankenship and the NHPS set out to seek permanent solutions to the unnecessary conflict between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Walking Horse industry. After consultation with numerous leading equine veterinarians, the NHPS determined it was an important objective to strengthen the Horse Protection Act, which was originally passed by Congress in 1970 and amended 1976.

The veterinarians advised the NHPS that while the Horse Protection Act correctly intended to eliminate “sore” horses from participating in shows, it did not contain a medically correct definition of how to determine when a horse is sore, thus causing confusion between the industry and USDA.

“The original writers put the cart before the horse, no pun intended,” said Dr. Jerry Johnson, a leading equine veterinarian. “We have proposed a revision of the definition of “soring” as applied to HPA that will bring greater clarity and enforcement of the Act.”

As it is currently written, the Act outlines numerous ways to sore a horse - including applying an irritating or blistering agent, burning, cutting, lacerating, and even injecting any tack, nail, screw, or chemical agent. However, the Act only identifies potential causes of soring, rather than identifying the identifiable symptoms.

Dr. Johnson, along with well-respected Dr. John O'Brien, and Dr. D.L. Proctor, set out to propose a medically-correct definition of soring by using generally-acceptable clinical terminology for when a horse is experiencing pain and inflammation.

“The Horse Protection Act has been in effect for years, but has been somewhat unclear to many,” said Dr. O'Brien, a member of the NHPS advisory board. “The term 'sore' needed to be further defined such that an individual would know exactly where the boundaries are.”

With a combined 80 years of veterinary experience, the three veterinarians hope to define the terms of the Act in a way that is both medically-correct and clearly articulated to everyone in the industry. “We want to strengthen the Horse Protection Act to permanently eliminate the practice of soring, and therefore achieve its original goal of protecting horses,” said Dr. Proctor.

The veterinarians, in conjunction with the NHPS, hope to work with lawmakers to correctly amend the Horse Protection Act and enhance its ability to enforce the rules. “For years we have put Band-Aids on the problem to just get by,” O'Brien said. “Now its time for everyone to come together in one concerted effort for the benefit of the Walking Horse industry, and most importantly for the health of our horses.”

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